Mathew James Christoff: Hello, my name is Matthew James Christoff. Welcome to the New Emangelization Project.’ The new Emangelization Project is a call to confront the Catholic “Man-crisis” and respond with new ardor, expressions, and methods to draw men to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.
If we wish to have a New Evangelization, there must be a New Emangelization creating new generations of Catholic men who are on fire for our Lord Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church.
Today I am speaking with Dr. Leon Podles. Dr. Leon Podles is the author of The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity and Sacrilege, an in-depth look at the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Dr. Podles has a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, worked as a federal investigator for over 20 years, and is the founder of the Crossland Foundation, a national non‑profit organization dedicated to advancing Christian culture. To find out more about Dr. Podles and his work please visit podles.org.
Hello, Dr. Podles.
Dr. Leon Podles: Thank you for having me.
Matthew: I’d like to thank you for your book, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. It’s a powerful analysis of the state of men in western Christianity. It provides a very helpful definition of the definition of masculinity and it argues that it’s the feminization of the Church that’s drove men away and then provides some suggestions about what we might do to draw men back into the Church.
I think anyone who’s serious about the future of the Church must come to grips with your work. I thank you for writing it.
Dr. Podles: Thank you.
Matthew: At the heart of The Church Impotent is the fact that there’s a crisis in western Christianity because so many men have left the Church or casual in their faith. How can we tell there’s a crisis?
Dr. Podles: There’s a crisis. Of course, as you said, men are very weak in their faith but people don’t notice it because it’s of such long standing. For 800 too 1,000 years, men have been weaker in their faith, at least in western Christianity, than women have. Therefore, being a long-standing problem, like any long‑standing problem, people tend not to notice it until it becomes a catastrophe.
What has happened in recent centuries is that western civilization has become more and more secularized as first men left the Church and started pursuing their purposes in life elsewhere. But now women are falling out of the Church also. This has, of course, caught the notice of many clerics including Pope Francis who says we must find a role for women which is true. But the underlying problem is the lack of men, the lack of a role for laymen in the Church.
The reason women are leaving now is that men have already left and women are following them out.
Matthew: We’ll just jump right into the Institutional Church issue since you mentioned Pope Francis. I’ve looked at the documents of the New Evangelization going back over the last forty years, including the documents from the USCCB, looking for evidence that acknowledges that there is a Catholic man-crisis, that men are important and that men need to be evangelized in a specific way.
Other than a short reaction to the growth of Promise Keepers in the 1990s with two or three multipage documents, several pages long, and [edited -a short document entitled
Hearing Christ’s Call – A resource for the Formation and Spirituality of Catholic Men] there’s been little from the Church in Rome or from the USCCB on this issue. Why do you think that is?
Dr. Podles: I think that, again, part of it is it’s such a problem of long standing. It’s accepted as the natural condition. Theologians from Cotton Mather to an Opus Dei priest I know have said, “Well, there were three women and one man at the cross and that’s how it always is.” Bishops expect there to not be men in the Church forgetting, of course, the Apostles. A slight detail! I think that’s the basic reason they are not aware or pay attention to the lack of men in the Church.
There are other reasons, too. One reason is that the men are difficult to deal with. Women have been, at least until recently, more susceptible to clerical direction and men have been rebellious. Therefore it’s easier to deal with women than men and clergy choose to deal with women than men. Also, the clergy of all churches tend to think of the church they think first of the clergy. Of course, the Catholic clergy is still exclusively male and therefore they think the Church is all male.
They forget that they are only one tenth of one percent of the Church and 99.99 percent of the Church is lay.
There’s also another problem. I strongly suspect that in the Catholic Church there is portion of the clergy are uncomfortable to heterosexual men. They are gay and do not like to be around heterosexual men.
When I was a federal investigator I often interviewed clergy who were references for people we were doing investigations for. I was not extremely aggressive. This was a standard procedure but they wilted under cross‑examination. They never expect people to challenge them. How did they know this person? How long have you known this person? Simple questions like these, but they wilted.
The only exception was an Assemblies of God guy who I met. He was driving his pickup truck and moving a load of firewood (laughter). But the Episcopal clergy and the Catholic clergy were on the weak side.
Matthew: There’s certainly a problem, as well documented in your book Sacrilege, which by the way I am also very grateful that you’ve written. I’ve got the copy. I’m about a third of the way through it. It’s very difficult reading, but again, I think we need to face the truth.
There’s different professions. There are different types of people that are attracted. At least the way that Catholicism, and I’m a relative newcomer so I don’t want to speak with too much attempt at authority here, but the church has not been evangelical in the United States for a long period of time. When you don’t have that kind of outward focus and outward mission you attract different kinds of leaders.
This is, of course, the basis for the whole New Evangelization, that we’ve got a big problem. We haven’t evangelized. When you’re not outwardly evangelizing it tends to be inward focused, probably more spiritually interior, and it attracts men to the priesthood who don’t necessarily have that natural inclination to go out and light fires everywhere and maybe you’re not comfortable with it.
Completely notwithstanding the fact that they’re heterosexual.
Dr. Podles: Yes, even that. Yes.
Matthew: It’s interesting. Your point on priests preferring to evangelize women because they’re easier, I spoke with a very seasoned senior priest recently who basically told me, “Look. It’s almost an efficiency thing. If I put an hour into evangelization and I have an equal group of men and women what I end up with is 80 percent women I’ve reached and only 20 percent of the men so of course I’m going to focus on where the yield is.”
Dr. Podles: But this, of course, in the long run is counterproductive because this reinforces the idea in men’s minds that religion for women. It’s a long term strategy that is going to be a failure because it’s becoming clearer that the key to transmission of the faith within the family is the father. A new book’s just come out, reviewed in the New York Times that a study of the intergenerational transmission of the faith in the United States [Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations by Professor Vern Bengtson].
It reinforces what a Swiss study showed a few years ago, that the father is the key to the transmission of the faith to the next generation. He has to be both sincere, of course. He has to be a sincere believer but he also has to be affectionate, that is an engaged father who is sincere in his Christian faith will transmit his faith to his children.
If the father is sincere but distant he will not do it. If he is insincere of course he will not do it. If he’s not there, which is all too common, there’s no possibility of the faith being transmitted to the next generation.
Matthew: I think it’s very logical. There have been a number of books written that underscore the importance of the father. I’m not sure which one you were referring to but Dr. Christian Smith has written Souls in Transition, which talks a lot about that, there’s American Grace, which also speaks to it.
I think in your book, The Church Impotent, you also refer to how catechesis occurs. It’s predominantly done by women.
Dr. Podles: Yes.
Matthew: That sends a signal to young men that this is not important work. A son will say, “If my dad’s not involved, I’m not going to take this too seriously.”
Dr. Podles: Yes, that’s exactly true, the vast majority of catechists, 80, 90, probably more than 90 percent, are women. This reinforces the idea in boys that religion is for women. A young man will say, “I grew up to be a man, I will have nothing to do with it. I will leave it in the hands of women, and the priest, who men are sometimes very suspicious of, for various reasons, for being so closely associated with women.”
Matthew: I don’t know if you’ve looked specifically at catechetical material or catechesis and looked at how masculine or feminine it is.
Dr. Podles: No, I haven’t done that, no.
Matthew: My suspicion is that if it’s taught by women, it’s just not going to have that masculine component.
Dr. Podles: It tends to be cutting out felt banners and being nice to each other, which are good things, but not exactly the death and resurrection of Jesus. [laughs]
Matthew: Right. Let’s go into masculinity. In your book, The Church Impotent, you give a very broad understanding of it, looking at psychological, biological, cultural and a number of different ways of thinking about masculinity. Can you summarize it?
Dr. Podles: There’s a general consensus about what masculinity is. It’s not maleness. Just because a person is male does not mean he is masculine, that’s what we recognize in ordinary language. When a boy is an infant boy, he is closest to his mother. He’s been inside her nine months, and he often nurses, and she’s the center of his universe. She’s the person to whom he is closest. As he gets older, he realizes there is an important difference between him and his mother. He will never be a mother.
A girl doesn’t have that experience. She is closest to her mother, she will normally grow up to be a mother. A boy realizes that he’s different from and can never be the person to whom he is closest in life. He must learn to differentiate himself from his mother, and this is a perilous project. He therefore starts rejecting the feminine. Not simply differentiating himself from it, actually rejecting it. The most extreme example of this we’re all too familiar with in the inner city, where there are no fathers.
The boys become hyper‑masculine, they reject everything feminine and they become violent. They have no models of mature, masculine behavior on which to model themselves. They can go off and become hyper‑masculine. Some even become sociopaths who show no empathy to other people, who can kill without feeling.
For a boy to become a real human being, a complete human being, he must identify with the masculine world, normally beginning with his father. If his father is, first of all, there, and is a good model, and affectionate, this will give him a good model of masculinity to follow. If his father loves his mother, this will show to the boy, “Well, I can love women without being like a woman.” It’s an important thing for a boy to learn.
The boy identifies with the masculine world of his father. He’s initiated into it, sometimes through apprenticeships, learning how to work with him. Sometimes tribes have various violent initiation rituals. The masculine role, that anthropologists have established, is almost universal, if not indeed universal. It’s based upon the very simple difference in human reproduction. A woman carries a child nine months. She protects the infant. Without her, society won’t continue. The male is expendable.
The male is absolutely essential in bringing a person into life for only for a moment, at conception. If he dies, and that happens frequently before the child is born, the child may well survive. If the mother dies before the child is born, obviously the child will not survive. Men are more expendable than women, and therefore societies have generally assigned the dangerous roles to men, and have convinced them to take these dangerous roles: being a soldier, being a lineman, etc.
Matthew: They’re bigger and stronger, too. Right?
Dr. Podles: Part of it, is of course, that men are physically bigger and stronger. Weak men were drafted, and strong men were not drafted, because men are expendable, and men have to learn this, you’re expendable. Society can do without you, if it comes to that. You have to be willing to sacrifice yourself in taking on dangerous work. In society, the 20 most dangerous occupations in the United States, I think 19 of them are overwhelmingly male.
The only one that’s not, which is prone to injuries, is professional dancing. [laughs] That’s quite a dangerous occupation, but everything else is predominantly male, overwhelmingly male.
Men have to be persuaded to take the dangerous occupations to basically sacrifice themselves for their wives and children first of all, and for society, if necessary, and therefore they have to be cajoled into this by saying, “Aren’t you lucky to be a man, you get to die in battle.” This is necessary, so men have to be given this superiority complex, because they have to be persuaded to sacrifice themselves, and this is how societies function.
It can go wrong in many ways, of course, but this is basically based upon the very simple facts of human reproduction. The mother is more important than the father. That is how the role of masculinity is developed in almost all societies. I was a Boy Scout leader, you have to train boys into taking reasonable courage. You have to take risks, you have to take dangers, you have to go down cliffs, they have to learn how to swim. All these things are a little bit dangerous.
Some Boy Scouts die each year doing outdoor stuff. It’s a risk you have to take to develop the courage, physical courage, which is the basis of moral courage. If you’re not physically courageous, you’re not going to have the courage to confront more spiritual evils.
Matthew: There are three phases that men go through as they develop: they have union with their mother; they have to make that separation to break away from their mother, so they go through some kind of initiation ritual, and ultimately they return as protectors and defenders with a different kind of love for women than they had for their mother.
Dr. Podles: Yes. That’s a good summary of the three stages. If it goes well, that’s what happens, but, of course, it can go wrong in so many ways. A boy can remain a momma’s boy and never differentiate enough in his mother. He can totally reject the feminine and become a psychopath.
He can defend and support his family, and sometimes he has to die to do that, and that’s a loss to the family. There’s no getting around it. If a man dies in his work or in the military, his family will suffer, but life is not perfect.
Matthew: In these interviews, one of the things often noted is that in secular society and the broader culture outside the Church’s walls, that men are being denigrated and marginalized, that men are inconsequential. That has led many men to just say, “Well, if you want to take the lead, go ahead and take the lead.”
This is why we’re seeing this delayed adolescence, young men living in their parents’ basements for years, men rejecting marriage or waiting to choose to marry until much later in life.
What are the things that you see in the culture that are rejecting masculinity?
Dr. Podles: Well, I try to distance myself from pop culture. I don’t even watch television, so I’m not sure what’s going on.
Matthew: That’s why you’re so calm and thoughtful.
Dr. Podles: I really honestly don’t know quite what’s going on. I’m familiar with the denigration of man, a profound failure to recognize the importance of the masculine and the rejection of being masculine. In many cases, especially in Christian circles, men are told and taught that they have to become like women to be good Christians. That’s what I’m mostly concerned with, rather than the general social problem.
Matthew: That’s exactly what I love to talk about more, because as I was reading through your book again, The Church Impotent, and I was seeing many of these trends of feminization started in the Middle Ages, the 1300, 1400′s, with the mystics who were mostly women.
Dr. Podles: Almost all women, yes.
Matthew: This idea of you have to be more like a woman to be able to be a Christian and to accept Christ…because part of it is receptivity. But the counterpoint I kept coming back to was, “Well, to be a Marine…” Now, my son‑in‑law’s a Marine, and my daughter actually is a Marine too.
To be a Marine, you have to be willing to submit to authority. The disciples submitted to authority. Firefighters, firemen, and in corporate America, you have to be willing accept authority to some level if you’re going to be a part of any organization.
I understand the argument in the spiritual life that one must be receptive, but one doesn’t have to be feminine to be receptive and to submit to authority. It wasn’t true in the early stages of the Church.
Dr. Podles: That is true that men will accept obedience, somewhat reluctantly, usually, if they’re convinced it’ll make them more masculine, the Marine Corps being, of course, the best example of all. Men are not enthusiastic about obedience, I would say.
No one likes to be ordered around, or I should say no male likes to be ordered around, and I doubt women do too, but that men are willing to accept obedience if it makes them more masculine, if they are learning to become a man by being obedient.
The receptivity that Christians should think about is not the receptivity of the bride but the receptivity of the Son. The Son receives His divinity from the Father, and that His Sonship, the Divine Sonship, is our model for receptivity, not the bridal receptivity that has entered into Christian thought.
Now, there were practical reasons for this, and I’ve written a new book, 99 percent done, which I’ve given the tentative title to Meek or Macho, The Alienation of Men from Christianity. Well, men are alienated from Christianity. How’d this come about? I think there were two prongs, or two developments, that led to this.
First of all, there was a practical problem, a real practical problem. The Middle Ages were extremely violent. Homicide was common. It was like, again, the inner city. You dissed somebody, you got a knife in your belly. Whether you were a village lout or an aristocrat, homicide was extremely common, and rape was extremely common.
In one French city in the Middle Ages, careful studies have shown half the young men were involved in gang rape. It was just a practice. Obviously, responsible adults were not happy about this behavior, and the Church and the state got together over the centuries, trying to reign in young men, and with some success, a great deal of success, that the homicide rate has declined 90 percent in Europe since the Middle Ages, 90 percent, more in some countries. It’s almost non‑existent in countries like Norway.
A centuries‑long campaign, almost ended murder in Europe, and the same thing with gang rape, was severely punished over the centuries. The clergy and the state got together to do this. Now, the clergy’s role in this was to convince men not to be so violent, and they decided the best way to do this was to convince men to be more like women, and they found a theological justification for this in Aristotle, who said that the feminine is receptive and the male is active.
The clergy thought, “A‑ha, so Christians should be receptive. Therefore, a Christian should be feminine,” and this is misunderstanding, but they preached this to young men over, and over, and over again, “To be a Christian, you have to be feminine.”
The clergy also were very active in trying to end not only homicide and gang rape, things which should have been ended, but anything that would excite young men: drinking, sports, dancing, fireworks, a big opposition among Spanish countries.
The clergy were extremely opposed to fireworks because they excited young men. [laughs] Young men did not appreciate this, and remembered, when they grew older, that the clergy were their enemy, that the clergy were the “Fun Police.” they wanted to stop anything a young man enjoyed, like whistling on Sundays, [laughs] or going for walks on the Sabbath and extreme Sabbatarians.
These young men found the clergy opposed everything that young men enjoyed. For instance, the Curé of Ars (St. John Vianney) came to the town Ars after the French Revolution, which was totally de‑Christianized. In his inaugural sermon, he said what he wanted to do more than anything else in this village, he would accomplish one thing. Stop dancing.
He would refuse absolution to people who had danced, even refuse absolution to people who watched people dancing. He built a chapel in his church to John the Baptist, writing the words, “His head was the price of a dance.” The young men did not appreciate this, and the amount of energy put into condemning dancing, both by Catholics and Protestants, is astonishing.
I think it’s a proxy for “sexuality” myself, but Charles Borromeo excommunicated people who confessed to dancing three times. They were excommunicated if they confessed to dancing three times. The Council of Baltimore in the 19th century forbade dancing at any Catholic event.
Young men got the message loud and clear, “Whatever you like to do, any excitement you like, is bad, and you should sit quiet like a girl,” and boys don’t like to do this, and when they grew up, remembered the clergy, and looked carefully at the clergy’s behavior, and noticed there was a lot of sexual misbehavior in the clergy and that both Catholic and Protestant clergy were altogether too close to women.
Men did not go to confession. When confession became obligatory, men did not go to confession. 80, 90 percent of the people at confession have always been women. The Protestants don’t have confession. They have pastoral counseling. Again, almost exclusively men cleric and a female counselee, and the intimacy of confession and counseling led to sexual irregularities for centuries.
The Inquisition investigated them. And the Catholic Church, there were many scandals in the United States involving clergy and women in 19th and 20th centuries, and even today. Just today there was news about a big evangelical leader who is accused of sexual regularities and crimes.
Men noticed that the clergy were not living up universally to the standards they were preaching and figured, “It’s all hypocrisy. They want us to become like women, but they don’t even behave like a normal, heterosexual man should behave.”
There was a great deal of alienation from the clergy, a vast amount of anti‑clericalism, especially strong in Catholic countries, because the clergy demanded obedience more so than the Protestant clergy did, and this led to the French Revolution, to the thousands of deaths of clergy, and sometimes for explicitly sexual reasons.
The revolutionaries said, “You’re creating bastards. You’re not preaching the Gospel.” As soon as the French Revolution started, no men went to confession, even the churches that were still open. Men totally banished from the confessional.
Liberals throughout the 19th century took up the accusations against the clergy, especially the Catholic clergy whom they saw as effeminate agents of a foreign power. The Nazis took up this liberal denunciation of the clergy and discovered, to their surprise and delight, a major sexual abuse crisis, and asserted order in Germany in 1936, and had vast amounts of propaganda about the sexual misbehavior of the clergy.
In Spain, they led to mass murder of the clergy. The anticlericalism of Spain was always strongly sexually tinged. They did not believe the Catholic clergy were celibate. They thought they were fooling around with women or, even worse, with boys, and that when the Spanish Civil War started in 1936, it was the worst persecution of the clergy ever, in the history of Christianity. In the Republican zone, one out of every four priests was murdered. All over Spain, I think one out of every seven priests was murdered. An astonishing toll. They were murdered simply because they were priests.
This was a combination of centuries of anti‑clerical propaganda and feeling. I won’t go into details. They were too horrible. But the murders were often sexual and they involved terrible sexual torture of the priests. Sometimes they said, “We’ll spare you if you get married.” Meaning have intercourse with a prostitute. An honorable priest said, “No, I made a vow. I’m a man, like you, but I made a vow and I will keep to it, even if it costs me my life.” And they killed him.
There was this strong sexual element in the anti‑clericalism, both in France, in Nazi Germany and, especially in Spain, but it exists in all countries, both Catholic and Protestant. This has provided a very strong and difficult to deal with emotional hostility of men towards the clergy, which in turn distances men from Christianity.
Matthew: We can look to our present day and look at the priest scandal.
Dr. Podles: Yes, this is the latest manifestation, but not new.
Matthew: It’s the same thing. And I can’t recall if it’s in your research or some of the work I’ve done, asking men why they’ve left the Church, men are different when they leave the church than women.
Men, they did a study in Chicago, one of the core reasons was homosexual behaviors of the priests and the sex scandal with young boys was the predominant reason for a lot of the men who answered the question about why they left the Church.
Dr. Podles: Yes, the most recent publicity has simply confirmed what men have suspected all along.
Matthew: These are deep, long‑standing challenges to drawing men to the Church. How are men different when men do engage in religion?
I’d like to step back. People make the generalization that men are not religious by nature. But, that doesn’t pass the test when you look at Islam or Orthodox Christians. They tend to be more active in the faith, their faiths.
And, if you look across the history of Christianity, certainly at the early stages, men were very active. Many martyrs, certainly starting with the disciples, and the various monastics and the Jesuits and etc.
There’s been a very strong, manly acceptance of faith across religions and within Catholicism, specifically. How are men different? When men do engage in the faith, what are the things that have attracted them? What has worked in the past? What are things that you see that draws men into a life of faith?
Dr. Podles: Religion is a modern concept. It doesn’t really correspond to how Christians have thought of themselves, as is becoming evident in the difficulty Obamacare is having with the contraception exception.
So Christians, and even more so Jews and Islam, don’t consider religion a separate part of life. It’s simply the way you live. This is true of almost all cultures. Only liberal Protestants and Enlightenment people have categorized a certain area of life as religion. We’ve got to get away thinking of like thate.
But, what keeps men away from the Christian way of life, which involves, of course, involvement in public worship, but that’s only part of it. Many will say, “Well, men are less religious than women.” But, that’s not true either, as you said, historically, or nowadays.
In Islamic countries, men and women are all believers, but men are the more active in the mosque and in various religious movements.
Matthew: Can I stop you there for a moment?
Dr. Podles: Yes.
Matthew: I was looking at the precepts of the Church and looking at what the precepts of Islam are. They’re very different in terms of their level of rigor. I mean, they’re different in terms of content, but they’re different from rigor.
If you go to Mass once a year and confess when you need to and receive the Sacrament on Easter, that’s the minimum standard. In Islam, and I don’t know the percentage of men that do this, but it’s five times a day. Is there a difference, in terms of standards, of what’s expected in Islam, do you think, that contributes?
Dr. Podles: It’s clearer that Islam presents clearer standards. They are in some ways more rigorous, but they’re simpler. I should say they’re simpler standards. They’re not necessarily more rigorous.
The sexual ethic of Islam is not as rigorous as the sexual ethic of Christianity. It allows basically temporary marriages and things like that. But it’s simpler, much more simpler, and therefore easier to comprehend by men and women. But, since men have the main public duties, it’s easier for them to see and follow them.
Also, the idea of jihad, which is very controversial in Islam. Is jihad what we would call spiritual warfare against evil or is it actual military warfare against unbelievers? That is, of course, controversial in Islam. But there is a strong appeal to men’s assertiveness and aggression. The question is whether it should actually be against evil or against unbelievers.
Matthew: But I would suspect 90 percent of Americans say, “Jihad? I know what that means. I’ve heard it.”
Dr. Podles: They don’t know what it means.
Matthew: But they get the idea it’s something about battle. It’s something almost masculine. But, for Christians, is there an equivalent?
Dr. Podles: Spiritual warfare.
Matthew: That’s not even something that’s on most people’s mind.
Dr. Podles: That’s right. The other, closer to Christianity is Judaism, of course from which Christianity sprang. And, clearly in the Old Testament, that men have the leading role. It’s a patriarchal religion. Women were certainly respected and honored, but it was a patriarchal religion. God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
It was also a military religion, as demonstrated by the conquest of Canaan and the rebellion against the Romans. Of course, that’s one reason Jesus was executed. Pilate and the Romans were always concerned about a rebellion. The Jews were not a gentle people. They were a stiffnecked people and were hard to order around.
But, after the failure of the rebellion against Rome, the last rebellion against Rome, the rabbis decided that to survive, Judaism would have to change. Men were no longer going to be soldiers, because that would simply end in the annihilation of the race. Men, to be truly masculine, would be scholars. They would study Torah as much as possible. The more you studied Torah, the more masculine you were. The more scholarly you were, the more masculine you were.
Judaism, since the first century, has propagated the idea that, until recently, that to be masculine was to be a scholar, civilized, ideal man. And women want to marry the ideal man. Men would spend literally all their life studying Torah. Women would take care of the minor things like the family and running the business.
Men wouldn’t learn the vernacular. Men would learn only Hebrew. Women would learn the vernacular, German or Russian, because they dealt with the public, the unimportant things. The most important thing in the world was studying Torah.
Jews got the reputation among non‑Jews, among Gentiles, for being effeminate because they were not violent, they were not physical. The ideal was to be a gentle scholar and a good father. But this was not the ideal of the Gentile world.
Then, in the 19th century, after the French revolution, the Jews were emancipated. They began imitating the Gentile world. They wanted to participate in public life. They wanted to become warriors. They became Zionists. The military Judaism developed from the 19th century and eventually led to the foundation of the State of Israel.
Those who conformed more or less to the Gentile world became the conservative and reformed Jews who, in the past 20 years, have become almost totally feminized. They followed the Protestant model, religion is for women. Therefore, the majority of new rabbis are women. The congregations are overwhelming women.
Brandeis University has done a study and published a book about it. Why do men say, “OK, Judaism is for women.” It’s a different than Jewish Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy maintains the standard. The men have main responsibility in the family and in studying Torah and keeping Torah.
Orthodox men, three times a day, thank God they’re not born a Gentile, a slave or a woman because none of those three groups are obliged to keep all 638 laws of the Torah. Women are exempted from them because they have to take care of the children. Slaves are exempted, but they’re not free people. They can’t decide what to do. Gentiles aren’t obliged to keep Torah. But keeping Torah is quite a burden, they discover.
Again, men have to convince them, “Oh, you’re so lucky. You have to keep all 638 commandments, plus all interpretations of them over the millennia.” Orthodox Judaism remains a male‑centered religion and a demographically successful religion. They have six, eight, ten, 12 children. While the non‑Orthodox, the reformed conservative, are dying out. They have fewer than one child per couple, and the boys do not stay around, so they are dying out.
Matthew: It’s almost like there’s no turning against the natural way that God has created men and women. Men are not going to follow women leaders. Yes, politically we will have women leaders. But if men have the option, they’re not going to flock to women…
Dr. Podles: They’re not going to flock to women leaders who want to teach them how to be feminine. There are women leaders, political leaders, who are basically very masculine. This century has seen many of them. That takes us back to the early Church.
Clearly, women played a very important part in the early Church, and many of them were martyrs. But people misunderstand Paul saying, “In Christ, there is neither male nor female.” Because everyone is masculine. Everyone is called to be a Son of God and to imitate the Son of God in His death and resurrection.
When women were martyred, their lives, the martyrology said they become men. One of them had a vision for her martyrdom, which she was clothed in maleness. She became a male because she was going die for the faith, the masculine role. Women martyrs were praised for being masculine, for demonstrating the fortitude and courage to die, ultimately, in defense and witness to their community.
This idea continued in monasticism, which was basically a male movement. There were few mothers of the desert, but a handful, less than one percent. Early monasticism was all masculine and it was a strenuous, difficult way of life which attracted many ex‑knights and ruffians, and things like that. It was not an easy life. The monk was considered the new martyr. He was dying to himself. He fasted. He was celibate. He was killing, he was slaying the old man, himself, so that the new man could be born.
Monasticism was a very masculine movement. Related to that was the Crusades. The Church was trying to figure out what to do with all of these violent males. They decided the best way to do it was to send them East. The most difficult aristocracy convinced them, “Why don’t you go fight the pagans over in Palestine? It’s a good place for you to be, out of France.” They tried to direct male violence to a useful, supposedly, goal, namely protecting the Christians of the Holy Land.
There was even a military order, the Templars, who were not priests. They were laymen, but they took religious vows and they were soldiers. Whether this is a good idea or not is another question, of course. Religious violence is not something one wants to encourage. But, this did give men a masculine model in the Church, literally the Christian soldier who fought the enemies of Christianity.
Then, of course, the Reformation came and both sides were aware, both Catholics and Protestants were aware, of the weakness of men’s commitment to the Church. The Protestants tried to bring men back into the family. Women had the main religious duties. Calvin, for example, said, “No, the father must bring the child to the church for baptism.” In Catholic times, children were often baptized by midwives because of the danger of death. Calvin said, “No, the pastor must baptize. The father must bring the child to the church to be baptized.”
Luther, himself, held up the Christian family with the male head as the model of Christian life. Catholics emphasis St. Joseph, in reaction to this, they emphasize St. Joseph who is shown in the Middle Ages at a weak, elderly guy. He didn’t know what was going on at the Nativity. Now, he became a strong young man protecting Mary and Jesus.
Of course, the Jesuits were perhaps the best example of this new movement to keep men connected to Christianity; Ignatius was a soldier. But the famous story, after his conversion, after he read The Lives of the Saints and was converted, he was walking along with a Moor, an unbelieving Muslim, who was claiming Mary was not a virgin. Ignatius was saying, “Shall I kill this guy for blaspheming?” Ignatius said, “I’ll tell you what, if we come to a crossroads and he goes the same way I go, I’ll kill him.”
Fortunately for the Moor, he decided to go the other way. But Ignatius realized that’s not quite what God would want him to do. He became, instead of a soldier of Christ, like Santiago, Killer of the Moors, he became Santiago the Pilgrim. He would go out into the world and send his followers out into the world to preach the Gospel and have the great adventure of going up the Amazon and across the Great Plains, to the ends of the Earth preaching the Gospel.
This was very attractive to men, very adventurous. They were strongly disciplined but then he gave them independence. He said, “Go to China. Convert China.” You were formed strongly as a Jesuit, but then you were given total independence. This whole way of life was very attractive to men. The Jesuits were very important for centuries. Plus, they taught boy’s high schools and men’s colleges, more recently, giving a male model to the Church.
But they’ve changed. They’ve explicitly rejected this. They say, “We’ve got to be more open to women.” Jesuit colleges are now 70, 80 percent women. They recognize that the boys, young men there want nothing to do with religion, because the Jesuits themselves have rejected this masculine model of competition, of adventure and they want the more feminine model of cooperation. But, therefore they are no longer a model for men.
Matthew: I was just listening to the various things, and it seems like when men are engaged, there’s some kind of big crisis or challenge that has to be met. In the early Church, it’s “Christ has died and we need to stand up and proclaim it in the face of massive persecution.” When the Benedictines and the monastic movement starts, it’s “We’ve been overrun by vandals and we need to rebuild civilization.”
When it’s the Crusade, it’s “The enemy is Islam in the Holy Lands,” and it draws many men in. With it’s the Jesuits, it’s not only spreading the Word, but also counteracting the Protestant Revolution.
There needs to be a mission, in terms of ways of engaging men. And perhaps that’s part of the problem. Catholics were the outsiders through much of American history and then, as a result of World War I and World War II, where Protestants and Catholics were integrated in large numbers in war, Catholics became inculturated and they wanted to be accepted. They’ve lost that distinctively, that outsider view.
So they don’t feel like there’s anything worth fighting for. There’s not anything I need to defend, really.
Dr. Podles: Yes, men have traditionally taken up the role of protecting their community. For example, in the Middle Ages and until quite recently, and it still continues in many parts of Europe, men organized the religious fiestas. They didn’t go to Church, but they organized the feast days, the religious processions. This was all done by men who would never be seen inside the Church, because of the clergy.
They kept their distance from the clergy. But this was the way they would show they were men. They would organize the village fiesta. They would organize the village pilgrimage, all these ways of showing community identity. This is true in Spain nowadays that the famous processions, holy processions, almost exclusively male and organized by laymen. The clergy do not like them.
After the second Vatican Council, they tried to suppress all the Holy Week processions as much as they could. The socialist government in Spain got the ingenious idea of saying, “We are anticlerical. We are not anti‑religious. We will sponsor the Holy Week processions.” They did that for a while and then the Bishops began thinking about saying, “Well, maybe we can if you allow women to participate.” Because women will pay attention to them, and of course the men won’t.
Men will become defenders of their community’s identity. It sort of a form of tribalism which can of course go very wrong, especially as seen in so many parts of Europe. Unnecessary battles between Catholic Orthodox and Muslims. But it is also a very important role that men want to defend the identity of their community.
This is something which is dangerous but necessary, and it has been sort of lost in the general way of ecumenism, saying, “We are all the same basically, and you don’t have to worry about your identity.”
It is a difficult matter; we don’t want to encourage warfare but at the same time, we don’t people to lose their identities. It is a difficult balance to maintain. Men have always had this role of defending their communities, both in battle, obviously, but in more subtle ways, defending the identity of their community.
Keep this community in existence. Of course, that’s one part of life, I think that is important…we’ll return to that in a second…Of course, in modern life, this is a great age of martyrs, more so than the first century. More Christians have been killed in the 21st century, that have been killed in total in the past.
Mostly Muslim and Christian battles but also Hindu and Christian. Some Christians are slaughtered every day throughout the world and no one is defending them, there is no pressure. It is as if were have done to, for example, to Jews, if Jews have been persecuted, there would be enormous international pressure, rightfully so. Christians are being murdered by the tens of thousands not a peep by any of the European or American Governments.
This is, I think a great failing in men. Men can be saying, “What? You are not brave enough to be a Christian?” In most countries, being Christian is to risk your life. In Egypt, any Christian in Egypt realizes, “I can be a martyr anytime.”
Matthew: There’s plenty of very masculine Christians out there. They just…
Dr. Podles: Oh yes, but in the fringes, or in the new…well, both in the old areas, like Egypt, and the new areas, in Africa and in India, where Christianity has violent enemies who will kill Christians just for being Christians.
Matthew: I’d like to ask you: the book The Church Impotent has been out for about 15 years now. What has been the reaction by the clergy? Has there been a reaction?
Dr. Podles: Yes. Actually, I’m surprised, pleasantly surprised, how many hundreds, if not thousands, of mentions my book’s gotten on the Internet. I’ve not gotten any formal reviews because I wasn’t a scholarly press, but I’ve gotten, and still get, hundreds and thousands of mentions on people’s blogs and discussion on the Internet.
The basic reaction has been…universal, I should say, that yes, almost universal is yes, I’ve identified the problem, men aren’t there, but they’re not convinced I’ve found the cause or the cure, which I agree. The cure is the most difficult part.
The Catholic clergy have been largely ignoring the book, because one problem in the Catholic Men’s Movement is some of it is gay‑oriented, like Richard Rohr’s Franciscan movement, and I sent him my book. He was very interested until he read it. Absolute silence afterwards. [laughs]
Matthew: He wrote a book…I’m trying to remember What are they saying about Male Spirituality. Is that it?
Dr. Podles: Yeah, exactly. He’s the one who gives nude retreats, which tells you a lot.
Dr. Podles: The Catholic reaction has been muted, shall we say, among the clergy. A much bigger reaction among conservative Protestants who know quite well that I’m diagnosing the problem accurately and that the failure to supply a challenge is the biggest problem in Christian life, that men find the Church, meaning worship space and Christian activities, a very feminine environment, which they’ll let their wives participate in, maybe their kids until their boys are grown up, but not really for them.
It’s not really for them, so the Protestant clergy are much more aware of the problem, but conservative Protestant clergy are much more aware of the problem than the Catholic, but that the Catholic reaction has been that “men have become more like women, basically. They’ve got to give up this aggression, they’ve got to give up assertiveness, and got to stop trying to prove themselves.” All the things that make you masculine.
I think the Catholic reaction has been very weak. The Protestants have been stronger. Even some liberal Protestants have noticed that there was a problem and are trying to develop youth programs. That’s for to begin, of course, to convince boys that Christianity is not simply for women. But there’s been very little of that in the Catholic Church.
The people who disagree with me about the historical background say it all started in the 1960s. But of course, it didn’t, it goes back centuries. They blame very modern developments like the Second Vatican Council for feminism. But the problem goes back way, way before then.
Matthew: The reaction has been muted, but primarily, and I’m speaking specifically about the clergy, your idea is that the clergy actually believe the feminization of Christianity is a good thing.
Dr. Podles: Many of them believe this, and that they think this because of things like the Crusades. They think, “OK, we have a masculine Christianity, we end up killing people.”
How can you be masculine Christians and not have Christian jihad; I think there’s little danger of that. The bigger problem is we won’t have Christians who will even assert things, like “stop killing our fellow Christians in Egypt or Syria.”
I think they’re overreacting to the possible dangers of more masculine Christianity because they don’t want to face a challenges of dealing with men, because men are difficult to deal with or going to be a little hostile.
Men are going to suspect Christianity, it’s religion. They think it’s a waste of time, because there are more important things to do. There are football games to go to. Much more exciting.
The black clergy are especially aware. They’re the clergy who have been most responsive to my book, because they know that the men are not there and it’s a catastrophe for the black community. Because the men are not supporting their families, they’re often not present in their families. They’re often going off into criminal and violent ways of life.
The black clergy has been the most interested in my book and the most supportive. Including, I don’t think he read the book, but Jeremiah Wright wrote an introduction to the book on black men of the church. He was Obama’s controversial pastor. He was extremely aware of the lack of men in the church and how catastrophic this was for the black community.
Matthew: He’s fiery, too.
Dr. Podles: He’s fiery.
Matthew: Now, you talk a little bit about the difficulty of coming up with solutions. I mean, you’ve nailed the problem, you have talked a lot about why you believe feminization that’s affecting the Church.
In your last chapter of your book, you give kind of two things. One is, you say, authentic Christianity needs to be focused on Christ with Christ as the model. I’m speaking of The Church Impotent here. Then you follow that up with three things that need to be core to the evangelization of men. The importance of initiation, the recognition of the struggle, and the need for authentic brotherhood.
I’d like to start with the Christ part, which, my hypothesis is that that is the linchpin for us to reach men is to present Christ to men. In my experience, when I talk with Catholic men about Christ, you get very vague, general, conceptual and abstract responses.
They don’t hold Christ up, necessarily, as this King, this mighty Revolutionary, this overturner of tables, this leader that, in essence in 300 years, the Roman Empire goes down and converts without a shot. Of course, there’s the blood of the martyrs. But this idea of Christ as the model, can you talk more about that?
Dr. Podles: Yes, the popular image of Christ for centuries has been effeminate basically whether Protestants or Catholics, as the Sacred Heart image shows as a very weak sort of weepy type guy with long hair. The same image has been popular in Protestantism, and for over a century now, Protestants and some extent, Catholics, have been trying to portray a more masculine Christ.
Now sometimes, the attempts are odd, like the attempt to show Christ as successful businessman. Yes, that is a little odd. But they basically are trying to emphasize is what I emphasize in my new book, the thumos of Christ, the emotional energy of Christ which manifests both in His anger when He overturned the tables in the temple, when He told Peter, “Get behind me Satan,” but also in His love which is more powerful and stronger and more terrible than His anger.
So Catholics and Protestants tried to assume a more masculine Christ, have tried more or less successfully to emphasize His male energy. This is…
Matthew: This is accurate, correct?
Dr. Podles: Oh, it’s very accurate. He’s definitely shown like this in the Scriptures. When people think of spirituality, they think of something nice and soft and gentle. But the Holy Spirit is fire, and it causes people behave like they’re drunk at Pentecost.
Matthew: And drives them out.
Dr. Podles: And drives them out into the world. It’s like a nuclear explosion. It’s not like in my soft, gentle teddy bear.
Matthew: I think that when men in the modern culture don’t get Jesus they don’t understand Jesus in the context of what He was doing. I mean to completely challenge the Jewish hierarchy, to complete challenge the Romans, to do it in the way that He did, blatantly, aggressively; that is extremely manly. You’ve got to have incredible confidence and authority to be able to do something like that.
Dr. Podles: Yes. Anthropologists have studied the social world of the Mediterranean in Jesus time, and it’s clear that all over the Mediterranean world including Palestine that the public world was a masculine world, you entered it and you proved yourself and it’s like combat your enemies. Jesus would speak with authority.
He would argue with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He proved Himself be a man by His willingness to go into the public sphere and confront people. But of course, underlying that and more important than that was, the deeper battle, was fighting against Satan, the prince of this world. In His human nature, Jesus knew the terrible price He would pay for this, and He was willing to pay it.
He was willing to take on Satan and death, and pay the price of confronting them, a price we can never even imagine. So His confrontation with the ultimate evils Satan and death was how He proved Himself. In the ultimate sacrifice He proved Himself as a victor and therefore was given the name ‑‑ above other names, and became Lord.
And He became Lord, and was able to send His spirit upon the earth.
Matthew: I mean this challenge of evil and the battle against evil is something that fascinates men. In popular culture, you look at the things that men are drawn to: Gladiator and Braveheart and these video games that are extremely violent but focused often on challenge, the Lord of the Rings series, all these things.
They’re predominantly done by males. The problem is that they don’t understand it that the Lord of the universe has done that.
Dr. Podles: Yes.
Matthew: All that masculinity has been suppressed to make men less violent in society and in order to do all the things that you talked about, such as reducing rape and murder levels.
So we’ve got to, not in a violent way but in an accurate way, present Christ. If you went into a church and you asked 10 men, “Tell me about Jesus. Why do you follow him? Who is He? What’s more admirable about Him? What are the most impressive things about Him?” I think you would get a lot of blank stares.
Dr. Podles: Yes, they don’t know about His courage. They don’t know about His deep friendships with His disciples. They just don’t know Him.
Matthew: Yes. So I think that, at least, at minimum it has to be a starting point. I mean there’s a lot of things that need to be done. If we present Christ as He is in the Gospels, I think that’s the first step. You talk about three things, and maybe you’re thinking in the last 15 years has also evolved.
You talked about the importance of initiation, the recognition of the struggle that men live and need to be recognized and the need for authentic brotherhood? Can you talk just a little about each one of those?
Dr. Podles: Well, the initiation is something, of course, we go through in Baptism. We are initiated in the Christ death and Resurrection but we have to live that out in our lives. The martyrdom was considered an initiation of Baptism of blood. You were initiated into the reality but in your own body of imitating Christ’s death and His Resurrection. Monasticism was considered an initiation into a deeper level of life.
In this initiation you took a new name. You had the three vows like three promises of Baptism. Christian men basically are never initiated into the deep levels of Christianity unless they become of missionary religious or some specific vocation.
There must be way of helping boys realize that there are deeper and deeper levels. They’re not babies anymore. They have to start taking male, adult responsibilities in the faith, which is a bit dreadful. Well, normally not, but they can be dreadful.
Matthew: Most of us don’t remember our Baptism, and we only have a slight idea of confirmation. That’s in no way of any kind of a manly initiation.
Dr. Podles: No.
Matthew: Are you saying that what’s needed in this New Emangelization, my term, that we’ve got to figure out a way to reinitiate men?
Dr. Podles: Yes, they basically have to be, well, not re‑initiated, but to make them realize they have been initiated into this great story which is going on and now they’re part of it. They can ignore it, but they’re still part of it. If they don’t play the part they’re called to, someone else has to.
To speak personally, I did not enjoy writing that book Sacrilege. I paid an enormous emotional penalty for it, but I knew it had to be done. I mean, there were spiritual things that went on. Clearly I realized it was not simply human sin involved, there were spiritual forces at work and I was combating them. I’m up to fighting demons, but it’s difficult.
Matthew: It is emotional reading it. Sacrilege is a steely‑eyed, unyielding presentation of the case studies of sexual abuse, and it is unflinching. I can only imagine you challenge; simply reading it is an emotional thing. You’re filled with both anger, and compassion, and confusion, and the feelings of betrayal. There’s many things that are going through my mind as I’m reading it.
We have this huge sexual problem in our world today. Promiscuity, the denigration of life, the avoidance of life, abortion. This is, if God has a plan and He’s working it, part of what we have to do is just recognize the great evil of when we go off the path. Your book is one example of what can happen even within the Church.
Dr. Podles: Again, most people deal with evil by looking away. This is cowardly [laughs]. This is cowardly.
Matthew: This is one of the things that really struck a nerve with me is, and again, I’m only about a third through the book, But just the pattern of conflict avoidance by our bishops. Their attitude seemed to be: “I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to hear it, make it go away. Don’t talk to me about it, don’t leave a record, I don’t want it to come back at me.” It seems like the opposite of Christ to me.
Dr. Podles: It is. Well, as a good example of clerical behavior, there was a priest, several priests as a matter of fact in Italy in the south who were trying to get young men out of the Mafia. The mafia did not appreciate it and killed one of the priests, they shot him. Because he’s trying to get…he knew it. They said keep doing this, we’ll kill you. “I’m going to do it.” And they killed him. He should be canonized, he’s a real martyr. Now most of us are not called to that level of sacrifice.
I’ve had threats by the way, of courage, or at least of physical danger. But in almost always ways of life, there’s so many small evils and large evils that men look away from because it’s uncomfortable. Sexual trafficking, enormous problem. Men simply don’t want to think about it. Pornography which contributes to the sexual trafficking. Again, men either don’t want to think about it or won’t admit it’s a real problem.
Matthew: High levels of men are involved in it.
Dr. Podles: Yeah, it’s amazing. The Internet has made pornography accessible and addictive, which is an enormous problem and almost never mentioned, and has disastrous consequences for human relationships.
Matthew: You know when you combine the fact that 65 to 70 percent of men, including Catholic men and including priests and deacons, engage in pornography on a monthly basis with the fact that roughly 70 percent of Catholic men go to Confession less than once a year or never, its clear that many of our fellow brothers are in a state of mortal sin. If they get hit by a truck they’re hell bound, according to what the Church teaches. Of course…
Dr. Podles: Yeah, dealing with pornography is an important and delicate matter, but clergy don’t want to do anything with it. Actually some of them are problems. I can see the temptation, just surfing things have popped up that I shouldn’t see. What I’ve done, I put a Crucifix right over my computer, so I just remind me what to avoid…Jesus is looking at me.
Matthew: I have that, and I have Holy Water there too.
Dr. Podles: Yeah. It’s a big change, and a bad change, before you had to seek out pornography and it was hard to find, but here it’s at your fingertips any hour of the day or night.
Matthew: Is this a struggle, or a jihad, or a mission that could raise men, do you think?
Dr. Podles: If they realized how damaging it was. I think they don’t want to admit to themselves how damaging it is. But it is very damaging.
Matthew: There’s starting to be people who are thinking pretty deeply about this. Laymen, right, a lot of people are moving with it.
Dr. Podles: How it damages their wives and children that would be a thing. You’re not simply hurting yourself, you’re hurting your wife and children with this.
Matthew: The Witherspoon Institute, and I don’t know the organization that well, I’ve read some of their materials, has just come out with kind of a very comprehensive set of analyses on the huge negative impact of pornography. It’s at the root of a lot of Catholic divorces.
Dr. Podles: Oh really?
Matthew: Yes. Very prevalent. We’re getting short on time, I know you have things to do. But this initiation idea, I would think that Promise Keepers is an example of what you’re talking about. You had to, you get these men together and they make this promise or this vow, it’s almost like a re‑initiation.
Dr. Podles: Yeah. An even better example, I just got a book on it, just published. The Cursillo. That is an even better example, because it’s lay-led, it’s lay-established. It is an intensive three day experience that breaks down men’s’ barriers, that shell they build around themselves, and causes them to realize in their deepest being the reality of Jesus and His meaning for their life.
The clergy were suspicious of it because it’s lay-led; the clergy weren’t dictating everything. It emphasized that although it was Catholic-oriented and there was Mass Confession, it emphasized that Jesus, the Holy Spirit operates in every Christian. The clergy didn’t like to hear that, because of that “Do what I tell you” clericalism. The Cursillo has been very successful in bringing…and it was original designed specifically for what the founder called the “far-aways.”
The hard to reach, beyond anti‑clerical men, who in Spain were very anti‑clerical indeed in the 30s.
Matthew: I have not been through Cursillo, although I can tell you I have met a number of men who have, and they are on fire. They are committed in a way that I don’t see in many Catholic men.
Dr. Podles: It has been very successful in making men realize the indwelling of the Spirit of Jesus within them, and going out and missionizing, going out to the world to preach Jesus. Again, it’s been little studied. Only one more or less comprehensive book written by, and she’s sympathetic but not Catholic, and doesn’t like the masculine emphasis in Cursillo, which was originally designed for young, unchurched men; the hardest to reach.
Then it’s expanded to married men and to women. But Eduardo Bonnin (the founder of Cursillo) wanted to reach the hardest to reach, and used masculine, military terminology, bullfighting terminology, and with success. And Cursillo is one of the few movements which has been successful in reaching Catholic background Hispanic men. In many countries, Latin America, evangelicals have had and neo‑Pentecostals have had a great deal of success in reaching difficult to reach gang‑involved young men. More so than Catholic Church has.
Matthew: I don’t want to hold this up as the be‑all, end‑all, but we’re actually, I mentioned before that we started this thing called Catholic Man Night which is gathering men together in adoration, confession, and brotherhood, and focused on meeting Jesus. We’ve just launched what we call ”Noches De Hombres Catolicos,” which is in essence a Spanish language version of CatholicManNight. Most people when they think of Minnesota, where I’m from, don’t think that that’s an issue.
We’re getting really big turnouts, which is surprising to me. I think there’s a hunger, there’s so much beauty in the faith, and such a strong culture, and I just think we need to reassert, figure out ways to draw men in. They’re going to be attracted to it.
Why don’t we move to the recognition of the struggle you think is a critical component.
Dr. Podles: Well yes, because life is a struggle. We can ignore it, but it’s still a struggle. We all face death eventually. I just had a near brush with it. A false lab report, basically said you’re going to die within hours. That was a little sobering.
Matthew: That wakes you up.
Dr. Podles: It was false, fortunately. But we are all in a struggle and the refusal to recognize the struggle and our mortality, avoiding thinking about our mortality is a big problem because Jesus came to deliver us from death. If we don’t think about death, how about the deliverance?
Matthew: The struggle, another way to say it is the choice of life or death….we all suffer as we go through life. I like to say you have a personal appointment with pain. If you haven’t had it yet, it’s coming.
Dr. Podles: It’s coming.
Matthew: Don’t worry. This idea of knowing where you stand, and confronting the issue is what’s needed. We might say: “You call yourself a Catholic man. What does it mean to be a Catholic man? Grade yourself. Here’s a list of 15 things.” Now you can say, “Well, I don’t believe those 15 things, I believe three of them and there’s seven more I’m not sure about.” Whatever. Confront it. What does it mean to be a Catholic man? I think a lot of men will need to face that.
There might be a way to face that in terms of the struggle and say, “OK. Here’s where you are. Is that acceptable to you? Are you prepared to face the consequences of it? Do you believe the consequences? Do you believe the consequences of mortal sin that you actually can be damned to eternity because of that? Do you believe that? Are you in a state of mortal sin?”
I think that idea of forcing men to face where they are is going reiterate to them the need and importance of the struggle.
Then you talk about a authenic brotherhood in Christ.
Dr. Podles: Yes. I think that any successful movement that reaches men must be lay initiated, organized, and continued. That the clergy can be involved to greater or less extent, but it has to be a lay initiative basically.
Matthew: Why do you say that?
Dr. Podles: Because men are suspicious of the clergy, with sometimes good reason. Not only their moral problems, but the fact that men feel, they just want to control me for their own purposes. Because a lot of people enter the clergy because they enjoy controlling people. The men don’t want to be controlled for someone’s ulterior purpose, but if it’s a lay movement saying we’re not here to aggrandize the clergy, we’re here to encounter Jesus.
The clergy are an important part of the Church. They’re the sacramental ministers, in many cases, but they’re not the center of the Church. Jesus is the center of the Church and he operates through all of us. In Spain, for example, as I said, the men organize the holy processions, do other things. They organize, they lead. No clergy allowed, basically.
They’re sincere Christians. Carrying those floats is enormously challenging. They weigh tons and they walk for hours barefoot carrying these floats and they do other serious penance and they pray and they do have chaplains, sometimes. Often, these are very serious Christians who pray and do serious penance and when they’re asked, “Do you have to go to a church to be a good Christian?” they respond “No, that’s for the women and children and the clergy.”
The clergy are trying to integrate these legitimately into the whole life of the Church, but it’s better to have men sincere Christians, even if they’re a little distanced from the clergy, than insist you’ve got to be fully submissive to the clergy to be a Christian. Men say nope, not going to do it.
Matthew: The other part of it is this brotherhood idea. There’s a book by…I’m blanking on the author’s name. It’s called “Bowling Alone.”
Dr. Podles: I’ve seen it.
Matthew: You’ve seen it, of course. The idea is modern people, including a large portion of men, are withdrawing from all these social connections. Social fraternities, volunteerism, et cetera. Other studies show that there’s a dramatic and huge crisis of loneliness in men; men are becoming much more isolated. The Internet helps us do that because we can be medicated with visual images and sounds for hours on end and not talk to human beings. There’s a crying need for brotherhood.
Dr. Podles: Yes, there is. Men, again, their independence tends to become isolation, but they really crave brotherhood. That’s what attracts many men to the military. They’ve never been closer to anyone in their lives than in combat. Your life is dependent upon your buddies protecting you. They’ve never felt closer to people in their lives and never will again.
That’s what attracts people to the military. In the 19th century people were attracted to the various fraternal organizations. The Masons, Knights of Pythias, the Odd Fellows. Those have died out. Men don’t associate with the Church. As you say, they’re becoming more and more isolated. I’m not sure if it’s dangerous or just very sad, very, very sad, that people should be so isolated and live and die alone. It’s becoming so people don’t marry, people don’t have children, people don’t have relatives and don’t have friends.
Matthew: This is very poignant. It is something that we’re going to have to face. I think John Allen in his book Future Church writes about many elderly Catholics that don’t have children. When my mother was dying in hospice care our family rallied, as many families do, and we were there every day for three months.
The nurses kept coming up to us and just talking about how wonderful it was that we were there. We were like “where else are we going to be?” The nurses said that most of these people die alone. That’s one of the very rotten fruits of our contraception and anti‑marriage secular thinking that is going to play out in the next 15 to 20 years. It’s perhaps an opportunity.
Another thing I heard recently is that older people are looking back at the lack of Christianity in their own families. They haven’t passed the faith on. There’s a lot of regret. There’s a lot of regret.
Dr. Podles: Yes, there is.
Matthew: Especially with older men who have a feel for the faith and are committed to the faith, you see that a lot in Knights of Columbus and other movements. That’s a group of men that could be mobilized if they’re given the right kind of ideas and mission to go back to parishes and to be elders, to do what elders have always done in societies which is to pass on wisdom and to warn of the consequences.
It’s probably a whole other topic to think about in terms of evangelization. Do you have any parting thoughts? I know we didn’t cover a lot of things but we sure did cover a lot.
Dr. Podles: I would say my key point I wanted to make was the whole process of recovering men for Christianity has to be done by laymen. The clergy can cooperate, but it’s going to have to be lay initiative that men can’t sit back and wait for the clergy to do something, the Pope or the bishops to do something, even if they wanted to. In many cases, I don’t think they want to or don’t see the need of. They couldn’t do it.
The only way to reach laymen is by other laymen. I think this has been true since the very beginning. It wasn’t exactly the clergy Jesus chose. It was fishermen. It wasn’t the priests or even the Pharisees.
Matthew: Didn’t go to the pharisees.
Dr. Podles: No. It was fishermen and a tent maker, people like that who are the great evangelizers of the ancient world.
Matthew: That’s a great way to end. Today I’ve been speaking with Dr. Leon Podles, a leading thinker and author on the state of men in western Christianity and the author of The Church Impotent: the Feminization of Christianity. Also, Sacrilege, a book that he wrote several years ago. He has a new book that will be coming out shortly called Meek or Macho – The alienation of men from Christianity. I encourage you to read all of Dr. Podle’s work; it’s been very influential in my thinking. You can find out more about Dr. Leon Podles’ work at podles.org.
My name is Matthew James Christoff and you can learn more about The New Emangelization Project at NewEmangelization.com.
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